May 26, 2008

For the Love of Sitting Around and Flipping Through a Price Guide, Part 2

Let me be the first to say it: I didn’t realize that so many people feel the same way I do about the meaningless-ness of prices listed in Beckett and Tuff Stuff. Very interesting stuff.

Let me also be the first to say that I didn’t realize just how big an issue this assessment really is. There are lots of thoughts out there about how the apparent demise of the price guide affects collectors, ranging from very much (count me among this lot) to not at all.

In the last post on this topic, I brought up the idea of price guides as hobby infrastructure and claimed that without their consultation the hobby would be thrown into chaos. Tonight I would like to take this a step further. Tonight I want to examine…

A World Without Baseball Card Shops

Here’s the situation. The list prices in price guides have been deemed useless on such a massive scale that Beckett and FW have ceased their publication. With no widely available prices, the majority of collectors now consult eBay for accurate card prices.

Dealers do the same. And after they view the umpteenth autographed patch 1/1 card go for less than $20–pulled from a box that dealers paid a premium on to sell–they stop ordering high-end products from the manufacturers. The dealers understand that if they’re seeing these auctions on eBay, their potential customers are winning them.

So many dealers stop ordering these cards that the manufacturers have a difficult decision to make: finally listen to dealers and put more value in each box of product, or dismiss dealers altogether and work exclusively with big box stores like Target, Kmart and Wal-Mart. It comes as no surprise when the manufacturers go with the latter choice.

Because the majority of shops deal primarily in new cards, they start to close. Collectors don’t notice right away, as most of them are tuned to eBay. And besides, the hobby’s gone through this before and survived, so what’s the big deal? Also, everybody’s got a Wal-Mart near them, so who cares if one more shop goes out of business? Shops sell off their inventory and shutter.

Dealers at baseball card shows don’t feel the same pressure right away, though many of them do feel their brethren’s plight. Instead, without book prices to consult on every transaction, desperate, frenetic dealers result to using their best judgment. Collectors, fully aware of the situation dealers are in, refuse to be charged “judgment call prices.” Many dealers, citing lack of meaningful sales at shows, stop booking booths. What few shows remain shrink in attendance until they cease to exist. The National is the lone exception, chugging away, though it’s a magnet for news media to lament the hobby crisis. “Ain’t in the Card$,” is the New York Post headline.

Without dealers, the manufacturers are no longer in the dominant bargaining position. They’re at the whim of the big box stores. Product’s gonna be late? OK, we’re diminishing your shelf space. The manufacturers are not used to their role as ‘just another product.’ What happened to all those dealers they used to push around?

If I haven’t given my critics enough fodder already, here’s some more:

• The future of the hobby most certainly will not play out the way I’ve got it, though certain aspects of it are very close to happening now.

• No matter how much we distrust the prices within price guides, they’re essential to the well being of the hobby. If you’ve got a plan for injecting realistic card values into the hobby without killing hobby shops and show dealers off, please, I’m all ears.

• One last thing: I wanted to work graded cards into this somehow, but never found a good spot. If raw singles aren’t really worth their book value, what about graded cards? I know that entire price guides cater to graded specimen, but will/should these prices be combined with prices for unslabbed cards? Or would that negate the values assigned to those that have been slabbed? Also, why does it feel to me that dealing in graded cards is going to be what saves shop owners and show dealers?


Patrick W. Schubert Sr. said...

#1 - Graded cards are as devalued as the rest of cards. I have a large collection of 79 OPCs graded and the best BGS 9 copies barely draw book, so I keep them.

#2 - Distrusting the price guides is the only option. How many times can you see a $50 RC sell for $5 shipped on eBay before you realize it is a $5 RC?

#3 - Manufacturers and Wal-Mart? It is happening now, the only problem, who wants to buy the retail case to get the 1 auto in there? Retail stores are a way to get people who don't collect into the hobby, they will never put viable cards in those boxes because it is a way to sell 100 worthless cards with 1 'good' card and maybe the buyer won't be ticked when their $.99 + s&h opening bid doesn't get met.

#4 - Dealers at shows buy stuff on eBay and if it doesn't sell in 30 days (about how long it takes to drop off the completed list) they turn it around back on eBay and buy new stock.

#5 - Card makers give a darn about collectors ... This is a misnomer. My son pulled a 2006 SP Authentic Jeter/ Hanley Ramirez/jose reyes auto #'d /15 and waited 8 months for redemption of his card. I e-mailed a contact I have at Upper Deck and was informed that the card was not being made because Reyes had not retured his autos. My son got a 1999 PowerDeck Griffey Jr auto in return. They asked for suitable replacements. I asked for Jeter or Pujols. Got Griffey Jr. I pulled a redemption for a 1/1 Melky Cabrera auto RC and got a 2003 Yankees Collection Paul O'Neill in return when the card was not made. When I told my contact that it is bait & switch which amounted to theft by deception that was worthy of a class action lawsuit to level the playing field, he didn't want to talk to me so much anymore ... There is little we can do except stop buying the cards we love to get them to realize they are destroying the hobby and driving collectors away by using shady business practices.

I am currently writing a card related book and develpoping software to facilitate the buying and selling of sportscards online where overhead doesn't kill the average business person.

Anonymous said...

Save the hobby shop? Why? I don't miss being overcharged on old and new wax. And being low-balled on the selling of cards. Sure, you can get half book if it's Shaq, Jordan or Frank Thomas. Otherwise, those cards you just paid double retail for(cause it's hot or has an arrow next to it in beckett) are worthless. Cards are only worth what someone is willing to buy them for, not more or less.